The latest twist in the FIFA corruption scandal has centred on a controversial payment from football’s governing body to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). John Delaney, the FAI chief executive, confirmed last week that the FAI had accepted a payment of €5m (£3.6m) from FIFA in exchange for not pursuing a legal case following the Republic of Ireland’s controversial loss against France in the qualification playoff for the 2010 World Cup.
While there are many moral and ethical issues surrounding this incident, from a business perspective this episode is about two key matters: transparency and integrity.
There have been calls for John Delaney to appear in front of an Irish government committee “to explain ‘governance issues’ arising from [Delaney’s] acceptance of the money"
Members of the Oireachtas Sports and Tourism Committee have proposed that Delaney should appear before them to answer a series of questions about the matter. As Committee chairman, Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony, commented: “There are governance issues arising here and the FAI does receive taxpayers’ funds. This will be considered by the committee members.”
Compliance is often regarded as a lower-level issue in an organisation. But compliance starts at the top. Directors need to recognize the importance of self-governance. Strong leaders are those who are aware of compliance regulations and are strong enough to resist payments that are not strictly above board. Just as football revolves around clichés, there are also many clichés that are used to describe board level behaviour – practice what you preach; lead by example – but the fact of the matter is that at the core of every cliché is a prevailing truth. It is only by the leaders of the company setting a strong example of transparency and integrity will the rest of the team recognise the company’s commitment to compliance.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy show, John Delaney made his point that “it's not about money. This is about sporting integrity. "Where is the integrity in a leader of an organisation considering a controversial offer, accepting the payment, and then hiding it from the public domain? There is an ominous lack of clarity concerning where the money ended up, with both parties muddying accountability. There have even been reports of no specific reference to the FIFA payment in the FAI’s official published accounts.
Transparency is not about giving customers and governments more information, more reports or more sophisticated pieces of data. What stakeholders want are trustworthy leaders illustrating compliance at all times. Transparency is about our set of values and how we act on them in our everyday business practices – it is not about ticking a set of boxes or posting spreadsheets on a website.
As the FAI case has shown, a lack of integrity and transparency has impacted upon all those connected to the FAI – staff, supporters, and stakeholders.
How can a CEO recover from this?
Ultimately it looks likely that this lack of transparency and integrity will cost the man at the top of the FAI his job.